The current state of technical certification and IT jobs in America

Summary:An examination of the true state of the IT job market and the need for certification reveals some interesting results.

It seems that, at least in some parts of the country, the IT job market remains strong in spite of rampant offshoring to cheap labor locations and a new influx of H1B Visa workers. The best and most abundant IT jobs are where you'd expect: Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, Seattle, New York City, and Atlanta. There might be a few more select cities where there are open IT jobs but not many to choose from. There's also still the raging debate about industry certifications and college education for IT and knowledge workers. It's an interesting time for IT and the future is very hard but not impossible to predict.

Google the phrase, "Jobs outlook 2013" and you'll see conflicting reports in the headlines that result. You'll see headlines that include, "Bleak jobs outlook," "lower than expected outlook," and conversely, "2013 jobs outlook brighter." So it's apparent to me that the experts in the field can't accurately predict what will happen. 

Offshore Outsourcing

Although this post is more than a rant against offshore outsourcing and its negative effects, which I despise by the way, it's an analysis of the industry state as a whole—a big picture snapshot of the situation, including the role of offshore outsourcing.

Cheap labor locations such as India, Central America, South America, and Eastern Europe are eating away at the American job market in a very big way. Hundreds of thousands of middle-class, decent paying jobs have been moved, along with lower wage manufacturing, to these locations. The only [true] reason that they're moving is greed.

American business executives think that they're getting a deal by using these cheap labor centers. The truth is that they're not. A few years ago, when this trend started, I heard that it was because there was a labor shortage in this country. Interestingly, that same labor shortage existed in India too. They were hiring people off the street (literally) and putting them through a few months of training and then into a job.

The very sad part of this story is that we've spent billions of dollars building up a labor force in India and building up their outdated technical infrastructure so that they can be leveraged into cheap labor pools for greedy US-based companies.

Just think if those same billions had been spent in the US to build up our labor market and to train Americans, who are now out of work, for these jobs. Perhaps Mr. Obama's economy wouldn't be suffering.

The problems I have with offshore outsourcing are the following. First, our money is thrown away with the jobs that are lost. Those offshore workers don't pay American taxes, don't buy American products, and don't contribute to the welfare of this nation. Second, each time you layoff a middle class worker in this country, you effectively destroy a bit of the economy because the middle-class American is the US's tax and retail spending breadbasket. Third, you get what you pay for. Cheap labor gets you exactly that. It takes two, three, or more offshore workers to offset the loss of one American worker. In Argentina, one of those cheap labor locations, they have a saying, "How expensive is cheap?" Exactly.

Finally, I think it's unfair to falsely prop up an economy based on cheap labor because as their costs rise and wages increase, our greedy companies will seek out cheaper labor markets elsewhere and destroy another economy.

As a side note, for those of you who maybe think cheap labor is the way to go, let me paint a little scenario for you. Go look in your driveway or parking lot. What kind of car do you have? I'll bet it isn't the cheapest one you could find, is it? No, of course not because when you buy something for yourself, you buy the good stuff. 

So if you think that cheaper is better, then dump that high dollar car and go buy yourself the cheapest car you can find. Better still, go buy one from one of the cheap labor locations that you exploit and see how you fare with it. No? I didn't think so.

H1B Visas

H1B Visas are another bane to the American worker. Its another attempt to undermine our workforce with cheap foreign labor. Gosh, I'm starting to sound a bit Marxist with all this "worker" talk but I can assure you that I'm not. I'm an American first and everything else second. Our country is strong because we employ our own people. We build great products. We are innovators. It's a shame that some of our most prized American products are no longer produced in this country. Levi's, an American Original, is the first to come to mind. I digress.

I've heard arguments on both sides of the H1B Visa topic. The bottom line is that American companies claim that they can't find appropriate labor resources here and so they must seek out foreign workers. If that were true, you'd see H1B Visa holders from a diverse range of countries, not primarily India. True? It's another opportunity to be greedy. There's nothing wrong with making a profit but at the sacrifice of your own country's worker is just plain wrong and it's a negative blow to our economy.

It's also a slap in the face of American workers. It tells our young people that their livelihoods will be sacrificed for the promise of a few extra dollars. You know, those American college students who're paying top dollar for non-government subsidized educations and for loans that will take ten years or more to pay off.

But, hey, American company CXOs, don't let that bother you. You go ahead and take home your multi-million dollar compensation packages and your golden parachutes, while  the people in your hometowns hit the unemployment lines and go bankrupt. No problem. H1B Visas and offshore outsourcing are great ideas.

American IT Job Outlook

According to surveys that I've seen, it looks like the job outlook remains positive. It's no 1997 again, but it's not in decline yet either. There are jobs that may remain strong for the next few years. Some of those jobs are security professionals, database administrators, SAN administrators, and network engineers.

Since most of the lower level jobs are going offshore, companies are seeking out IT pros with several years of experience. Additionally, most job descriptions detail a diversity of required or desired experience. Specialization seems to be on the wane.

My assumption is that as offshore workers gain experience and do a bit of job hopping to up their pay rates, even the higher level jobs will be sent away too. My personal observation is that, unless our government follows other governments in protecting its workers, our jobs will continue to be drained off to cheap labor locations.

IT Certifications and Education

People who pursue IT certifications believe that they will give them an edge in the job market. Whether is does or not is debatable. Experience is still king in getting a new job or climbing the job ladder. The smartest and most employable workers use a combined approach to landed and keeping their jobs: education, continued training, certification, and varied experience.

I think by now, everyone with an Internet connection has realized that an MIS degree is a waste of time and money, although pure Computer Science degrees are still in some demand. Most IT workers don't have any sort of specialized education or degrees. Industry training is available from vendors, which is very good. However, most vendors now offer associated certification plans for those who take the training to prove their competence in a particular area or with a technology.

The problem with certification is that it's basically a money racket for vendors. They offer the education and the certifications. If the IT industry truly wants meaningful certifications, then the major players will have to create an independent certifying authority. Until then, certifications will continue to be meaningless.

IT needs a certifying authority like the Bar, Professional Engineering, Certified Public Accountancy, Teaching, and so on. Vendor certifications mean very little although some companies and execs still favor them because they sound good on paper. However, IT workers realize that these certifications hold no real value—at least those with significant industry experience realize it.

The Solution

A lot of people complain about the job market, unemployment, offshore outsourcing, and falling wages but I've heard no real solutions. I have at least one solution for our job market slump and sluggish economy.

The solution is to invest in our own infrastructure and our own people. It's that simple. If you offered the same training to our own people that you do to offshore workers, you'd have a much stronger economy, a larger tax base, and a stronger retail market. Now, realized that you can't pay American workers $30,000 per year like you do your offshore workers in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, or any of the cities listed above.

However, you can pay those kinds of wages in rural areas of the country. For example, smaller cities in the area of Texas I grew up in would be perfect. These smaller towns have been economically distressed for many years and the people would be grateful for the jobs, the economic boost, and the refreshed, modernized infrastructure.

You'd also be doing your fellow countrymen a good turn. There's value in that. There's also a name for it: Ruralsourcing. You still get your labor at a low price but you also get taxes being paid, goods being purchased, homes being bought, cars being bought, lunches being eaten, disposable income being spent—I think you get the idea.

Another Solution

When workers are treated unfairly and no one comes to their rescue, the workers have to do something for themselves. Let me also note here, before I say it, that I don't really like Unions. I think that Unions have, in the past, only served to perpetuate corruption that they were meant to alleviate. That said, I think that an IT Union is a good idea. There are two websites that I want you to check out to help educate you on this concept. One is TechsUnite.org, which also has links to other sites and a lot of news and information. The second is The Endicott Alliance site that was known as Alliance@IBM. It has a lot of great information, news, links, and an updated job cut alert. 

What do you think of the current state of IT jobs in America? Do you think that we can continue to survive the job hemorrhaging or do you think a unionized tech worker tourniquet is the answer? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Outsourcing, India

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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